Sunday, 19 April 2015

Darent Valley 10k 2015

I ran this race in 2014 and came away with a pretty good result (39.57). It's probably handy to read that blog post (Darent Valley 10k 2014) before reading this one because this one contains a few references to last year's event. For the record the event is superbly organised and hosted by Swanley and District Athletics Club.

dv10k [photo: 7t]

A year later and my running had fallen to bits. A lingering knee injury has meant that my training had been almost non-existent for four months leading up to the 2015 event, and up until 48 hours prior to the race I wasn't going to enter.

However, it had been set as the first race in the 2015 SLGR Grand Prix. I'm not that fussed about competing against my team-mates but the opportunity to run at a race with such a huge group of them was too much to resist. So I gave in to temptation and entered the race via the runbritain website and paid the £13 affiliated entry fee (£15 for unaffiliated runners). I used runbritain because they do not add a fee to the entry price like some other race entry websites (*cough*runner's world*cough*).

sparepenny lane [photo: 7t]

Considering my knee troubles I knew this was going to be a poor performance in comparison to what I achieved at the previous year's race. So my only real goals were to come away without making my injury any worse and to enjoy the morning. I definitely succeeded in one of them. *sigh*

On the day, just like the previous year, I jumped on my bike and headed down to Farningham/Eynsford to the race HQ in the Anthony roper School. I arrived and found the bike racks that I had used previously. If I had driven I could have parked up in the official car park adjacent to the school. Number collection was out in the school playground and involved going to a big board, looking up my name and making a note of my race number, then going to the collection point and quoting my race number.

darent valley path [photo: 7t]

I met up with a small group of SLGR runners who were huddling in a corner of the school hall. There were other groups outside but as it was a chilly, but beautiful, morning I was glad of a bit of warmth - the cycle ride over to the venue had left me with cold knees.

There were plenty of portaloos in another part of the school playground and I got in the queue a little bit too close to race start time. By the time my turn had come around there were only 3 minutes left before we'd be heading off. It was a bit of a struggle getting through the crowd of 623 runners (double 2014's number of entrants!) but I managed to reach a spot that was close enough to the front to mean that I wouldn't be held up.

looking across darent valley towards the race hq [photo: 7t]

After a short briefing we were off. The first thing I noticed was that the main road was much smoother this year (in 2014 it was heavily pot-holed following a very wet winter). I wound my way round the road until reaching the first kilometre point and turning into Farningham High Street.

After passing the lovely St Peter and St Paul Church, and then crossing the River Darent the course started to head uphill. Gently at first, but getting quite a bit steeper after turning left again onto Sparepenny Lane which runs parallel to the Darent Valley path (Dartford parkrun also passes along the same path, but about 10km further north). The 2 kilometre point is shortly reached. Then the 3 kilometre point, which I'm pretty sure is in the wrong place - both times I have run here I have found that I reached the marker in a time that was inconsistent with the pace I had been running.


lullingstone road [photo: 7t]

After spending the next few minutes glancing over at the view across the Darent Valley the road came to an end and it was time head down Lullingstone Road towards Lullingstone Castle, but not before passing underneath the Eynsford viaduct, which never fails to impress! The route then went past the road that leads up to Eagle Heights birds of prey centre, which is also home to some big cats and various other animals.

One more feature that the route passes here is the Lullingstone Roman Villa, which has a visitor centre built around it. The Villa dates back to around 100AD and features some of the finest excavated remains of a Roman Villa in Britain. I remember visiting it as a child. Actually my parents often used to take me, my sister and brother on days out to Eynsford back in the 1980s (it was a proper day out because we lived in central London). It still looks and feels exactly the same as I remember back then.


eynsford viaduct [photo: 7t]

After the Villa the road narrows and starts to undulate as it finally winds its way past Lullingstone Castle and the half-way point. I glanced at my watch at this point and found that I was about a minute off my time from 2014, which was pretty much what I was expecting. It was now time to leave the paved roads and go off-road for a while.

If this race was run in the winter you'd probably seriously consider wearing trail shoes to help negotiate this section, but as it was April and the last few weeks had been pretty rain-free, the soil was bone dry so road shoes did the job perfectly. It's a rocky uphill path to begin with and then the path becomes grassy. It passes through a few separate fields (the brand new Lullingstone parkrun uses part of this section) before swinging downhill along a narrow, tree and bush-lined pathway that contains some protruding tree roots.


just before the 4km marker having run under the viaduct [photo: brian pitkin]

At the bottom there is a sharp right-hand turn and the off-road section is complete. A fairly short, flat road section is followed by a quick detour through Castle Farm and this is where the longest section of climbing starts. The road gets gradually steeper as it reaches the A225 main road. Then as you reach the top, pretty much at walking pace, you turn left hoping for some relief, but the hill continues (albeit at a more comfortable incline) and it seems to go on for ages.

The eighth kilometre has been my slowest split on the two ocassions I have run here. But just before the end of this kilometre, the peak of the hill is reached and the remaining two-and-a-bit kilometres are almost exclusively downhill. The course soon weaves its way past Eynsford train station and then into the centre of Eynsford (Kent village of the year 2006). The course passes the St Martin of Tours Church which is opposite an ancient ford and medieval hump-backed bridge.

neck-and-neck with drr approaching the finish [photo: brian pitkin

Now inside the final kilometre all that is left is to weave along Eynsford High Street, which is now fairly flat but there is a very small undulation that feels bigger then it is when running on tired legs, and then turn back into the Anthony Roper School and cross the finish line.

Post race there was a medal to collect and some drinks, chocolate bars and bananas on offer (in fact, this is one race where I went home with more bananas than I arrived with!) I spent the next hour or so hanging out with the rest of the team as we exchanged stories of our adventures on the course. Quite a large group of us stayed for the prize-giving ceremony where our leading lady won first placed female.

2015 race medal, which continues the theme of using a scene from around the course [photo: 7t]

After a final team photo (there were a few throughout the morning, but sadly not one of them captured everyone from the club together) it was time to hit the road. So I said my farewells, changed back into my cycling gear and had a leisurely ride back to Dartford via the country lanes around Horton Kirby and South Darenth, taking exactly the same route as I had done a year earlier.

The official results were online a few hours later and I was about 2.5 minutes slower than in 2014 but that's just how it goes sometimes - you can view my GPS data on Strava. We had 48 declared first claim members of SLGR running in the race which was amazing. Last year we weren't even an affiliated club and we had about 10 runners running as part of the original 'So Let's Go Running' running group. I'd say that's pretty good progress!

(most of) #teamslgr [photo: ian pullen]

Time: 42.24 (chip)
Position: 76 / 623
Age Grade: 64.71%
Link: Official results

Lastly, I'd just like to add a huge thank you to all the volunteers that helped to make the event possible. And also to all of my team mates, to all the friendly faces from clubs near and far I had the pleasure of chatting to and to Dartford Road Runners Ian Pullen and Brian Pitkin for the fab photos that I have used above!

Dartford parkrun 38 - all the fun of the fair (and pacing. don't forget the pacing)

A bit of a surprise this week was when I received a message showing a poster promoting a fun fair that was due to arrive in Central Park on Wednesday and stay until Sunday. At first I was a little worried that their set-up could infringe on part of the route we use for our weekly five kilometre jog around the park.

the fair rides were all on the grass so we didn't have to dodgem [photo:7t]

So after work on Wednesday I popped over to the park to check it out. The fun fair was contained within the grass areas adjacent to the bandstand and thankfully left all of the paths nice and clear. Fast forward to Saturday morning and everything still looked good when I met Richey (ED) in the park.

Once all the gear was unpacked it became apparent that the hi-vis vests had been taken away for a wash, but were at Adam's house. The thing is, Adam had other plans and couldn't make it to parkrun this week. Thankfully Dartford Harriers A.C saved the day by letting us use some of their vests.

a nice little 21 minute pacing crew [photo: brian page]

The main thing that was exciting me at this event was the fact that it was pacers day. This time around we had 8 pacer volunteers, which was the best turnout so far. Again I went for the 21 minute pacing slot, which I find is a brilliant pace for me to run at and picks up a few more pacees than anything faster.

So the plan was to leave the Garmin at home and just check my kilometre splits as I reached the km points around the course using my stopwatch. Even splits for a 21 inute finsih would be 4.12 per kilometre, but because the course isn't flat, the splits for an even effort run aren't even.

an extreme take on my love of angled photos [photo: brian page]

This plan was to go for; 4.12 / 4.02 / 4.12 / 4.22 / 4.12 which I find is quite a fair way to run based on the profile of the course. When pacing I always check my time at the 500 metre point and I hit it at about 1.56 which is about 10 seconds in front of what the plan suggests, but starts tend to be a little quicker than the average pace and it allowed me to progress up the incline with ease.

I hit the 1 kilometre point in 4.10, which wasn't too shabby. The next kilometre is usually my quickest because it features a downhill which allows for a slightly faster pace without increasing the effort level. I worked my way round and reached the 2 kilometre point at 8.12 which made that split a 4.02, which was spot on.

completing the first lap [photo: ella smith]

Now the third kilometre is where I fluffed it up. I didn't drop the effort level back to 4.12 pace and I ended up putting in a 4.01 split. Realising my mistake, I eased off a little for the fourth kilometre and put in a 4.22 split, which was just as planned. However I was still about 10 seconds ahead of where I should have been.

I tried to ease off even more for the final kilometre and despite feeling like I was taking things really easy, I put in 4.11. Which was perfect pace-wise but meant I was still approximately 10 seconds ahead of schedule. I finally crossed the line in 20.51. That is inside my 1% tolerance so I was happy enough.... but I'm not happy with the third kilometre split that I put in. I'll work on that next time!

stopping my watch at the finish line [photo: ella smith]

This week also featured a parkrun bake-off (that I had completely forgotten about until Richey reminded me the night before) so there was a nice selection of sweet treats on the tables for everyone to help themselves to. Can't really complain about that!

And that was how Dartford parkrun 38 panned out for me...

cake for no reason other than we decided to have a bake-off [photo: 7t]
... I honestly can't wait to do it all over again next week.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Lesnes Abbey Woods junior parkrun 1

In the north-west corner of the London Borough of Bexley lies a 6.3 hectare area of woodland called Lesnes Abbey Woods. It is an area rich in geological history and fossils, including shark teeth, are regularly found. Part of the woods have been declared a site of special scientific interest (SSSI).

pre-run briefing [photo: 7t]

At the northern border of the woods lies the ruins of Lesnes Abbey which was founded by Richard de Luci, Chief Justicar of England, in 1178. The Abbot of the Abbey was an important local landlord. However, the Abbey's chronic financial difficulties eventually lead to it being closed in 1525 under the dissolution of monasteries Act.

warm-up session [photo: brian crane]

The majority of the buildings were pulled down and some of the stone was used in the construction of the nearby Hall Place.

After this time the Abbey was effectively lost and the land was used for farming. In recent times the remains of the Abbey have been uncovered and restored making this a very picturesque and pleasant space to come and wander around. At times it's hard to believe that you're standing in the middle of suburban South East London.

the start line of the first lesnes abbey woods junior parkrun [photo: 7t]

On 12 April 2015 Lesnes Abbey Woods junior parkrun was welcomed into the parkrun family. It was at 8.05am on the day that Matilda decided that she wanted to run, so we had a little panic and headed over to the venue for the 9am start.

Free car parking is available on most of the roads around the venue - the best parking spot is on Abbey Road (B213) just near the footbridge, which is right next to the start-finish area. The nearest train station is Abbey Wood which is only a few minutes walk from the venue.

out on the course [photo: dani]

Unfortunately there are currently no toilet or cafe facilities at the venue. There are plans via the Lesnes Abbey Woods Enhancement Project to build an 'education and community hub' which should address the lack of facilities here. Until then it'll be a case of making do. There are some picnic benches where the runners, parents and volunteers meet.

Junior parkrun start times vary between venues so please always check the individual event's website. As I mentioned earlier, this venue's run starts at 9am.

parkrun [photo: 7t]

We arrived with about 15 minutes to spare which was great as we could mingle with the volunteers and have a look around the remains of the Abbey where there is a Mulberry tree that is said to have been planted by King James I. It's also worth checking out the view across to Docklands where the iconic Canary Wharf skyline can be seen in the distance.

the remains of lesnes abbey [photo: 7t]

The run briefing was expertly delivered by Mel (event director at Bexley parkrun) who has been instrumental in putting together a team of run directors and core volunteers over the last few months.

Once suitably briefed the 20 junior runners were given a thorough warm-up and then headed to the start line.

hi five, marshal! [photo: dani]

The 2 kilometre run is made up of three twisty laps around the remains of the Abbey and the formal garden area. It is gently undulating (although little legs may regard it as hilly) and is run on a combination of tarmac paths, grass and dirt footpaths.

It really is a fantastic little route.

bringing it home [photo: brian crane]

Matilda took her Mum with her on lap 1 and I joined in for laps 2 and 3 where we had at a pit stop to remove a small stone from inside her shoe. Being one of the smaller runners, she did start to struggle mentally with the three laps because it's difficult for her to watch other children finishing while she still has a lap to go.

Plus it's also worth considering that to a four-year-old three laps seems like further to run than the two laps she is used to at Gravesend junior parkrun. Still the encouragement from the volunteers (especially Richey and Angela) made all the difference.

collecting her finishing position token [photo: dani]

Once she got going on lap three and could sense the finish, she managed to get back into her stride. After 22 minutes and 10 seconds she crossed the finish line and in the process entered the junior parkrun half-marathon club (11 runs). She had a big hug with Mummy before getting in the queue to get her barcode scanned by the event director, Olalekan.

barcode scanning [photo: dani]

With all the runners accounted for the kit was packed away and everyone headed off. Apart from me and Richey - we decided that it would be rude to be standing at a parkrun venue and not have a little freedom run, so we got straight onto that.

parkrun [photo: dani]

Looking in more detail at the LAW Enhancement Project you can see all the great plans that have been drawn up for this venue and it is certainly a great place to spend a little longer exploring after the parkrun. There's a recreation area that includes a fair-sized playground. There is a special area that permits digging for fossils and there is an actual fossil bed which looks amazing. There are wildflower meadows, ponds and orienteering trails to explore.

Overall it is another great addition to the growing selection of junior parkrun venues on offer and one that I think we'll come back to many times in the future.



Saturday, 11 April 2015

Dartford parkrun 37 - another day in dartford

I don't talk about it much any more, but my knee has been giving me grief since the end of December 2014 and as a result I'm a borderline non-runner throughout most of the week. I've kept my toes in the water by running at Dartford parkrun on Saturday mornings and as a result my fitness hasn't suffered by a huge margin over the last three months (around a minute over 5km).

pre-run mingling (chatting to matilda and alex) [photo:official set]

However, the recover is probably taking longer than it would have if I had just stopped running altogether. I have had to miss out on a few races that I had been looking forward to but on balance I'm happy with the decision I have made to continue running at parkrun every week.

The only running I did in the week since last week's parkrun at Brentwood (and I probably shouldn't have run because I was ill) was when I popped down to Tonbridge to make a video of the Tonbridge parkrun course. Making these videos generally involves about 3.5 hours of short 10-25 second bursts to create the clips. Approx 130 video clips in total.

heading over the ellenorlions bridge(s) on lap two [photo:official set]

So for Dartford parkrun 37, with my knee feeling the best it had for a long time, I decided to put in a hard effort. I started at a fairly relaxed pace and slowly eased into my pace. I hit the 1 kilometre point at 4.04, but then increased the pace over the second kilometre and reached 2km in a few seconds under 8 minutes. 

As I was in the range for a possible sub-20 finish I decided that I might as well go for it, but when I reach the 3km point a few seconds behind schedule, I knew it would be tough to pull it around. The incline on the second lap added a few more seconds to my fourth kilometre and I completed that kilometre with the clock showing 16 minutes. 

the last few footsteps [photo: official set]

I needed a last kilometre of less than 4 minutes in order to squeeze under the magic 20 minute mark. A few twisty corners later and I entered the long straight tarmac path that leads back towards the start-finish area. There was a headwind and I pushed as hard as I could.

I turned onto the last grass section, glanced at my watch, saw that it said 19.50 and pushed as hard as possible right to the finish (as confirmed by my expression in the photo above), but couldn't quite reach the finish funnel in time and had my time confirmed as 20.01 once the results had been processed.

scanning the barcode of our youngest dartford parkrunner [photo:dani]

Before the processing took place there was the small matter of barcode scanning to take care of. This is a great volunteering role and it allows me to run as well as volunteer (providing I get around quick enough, plus there is always a primary scanner to take care of the first few finishers). I had the absolute pleasure of scanning the barcode for Alex who at 4 years old is the youngest runner to complete the course to date. He did it in an incredible 39.29, so I'll be watching out for him chasing me down sometime in the next few years.


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